"Ultimate Day of Magic" Haunted Mansion Experience, 2002 (Walt Disney World)
By Daryn Coleman
May 2002 - I am the winning bidder on a Disney "Experience" that was posted on EBay. The specifics of the package as offered on EBay was a 3 night/4days with one day being the "Ultimate Day of Magic" at the Magic Kingdom for 4 people. The Ultimate day would include a VIP continental breakfast at the VIP lounge, and backstage tours of the Haunted Mansion, Utilidor's, Parade production facility and the steam train roundhouse. Following the backstage tour we would be the guests of honor at the opening ceremony at the entrance to the Magic Kingdom, and have lunch at the royal table at Cinderella's Castle. Private dinner would be prepared by our own Chef at the Rose Garden off of Main Street. We would have front row (VIP) viewing of the "Share a Dream" parade as well as the nighttime parade "Spectromagic," and we would end the day on the top of the "River Belle" having dessert and watching the fireworks. One note is that we all needed to be 16 or over to participate in the backstage tours. This did concern me a little since I was taking my 4 year old daughter with us. Besides my 4 year old I was traveling with my wife and my 16 year old daughter as well.
After July 15 we had several conversations with various coordinators. We decided on what we wanted prepared for dinner as well as our other accommodation requests. We requested to stay at the Grand Floridian and to fly Southwest Airlines. We were booked into the Grand Floridian but we had to fly United Airlines since that is who Disney has their preferred business with. Because of my 4 year old daughter, Disney basically made us two itineraries, one for the adults and one for my 4 year old, which I found to be a really great touch! We decided that only staying 3 nights just wasn't enough, so we booked a room at the All Star Sports resort. We had told the Cast Member from Walt Disney Synergy that we were planning on staying a few extra days and as soon as our park hopper expired (it was supposed to be just for the 4 days of the package) we were going to check out Universal Studios. However, when we received our travel package WDW had extended our hopper passes for the entire 7 days of our trip - if it was their ploy to keep us at WDW, it worked. We never left Disney's property.
August 16 - Travel day. We got up at 3:30am to make our 6am flight. It was a great flight; we were on time in reaching Orlando. Upon arrival we used our Mears vouchers for the trip to the Grand Floridian. Mears was right on time and the big air conditioned bus was a very comfortable ride.
We arrived at the Grand Floridian -it was GORGEOUS! We fell in love with it at first site. Our room was great - we had a beautiful view of the lagoon and the Magic Kingdom - watching the fireworks from our balcony was a real treat! That night we decided to kick off the vacation with a dinner show. We had reservations for the Luau at the Polynesian. Right after check-in we headed to the Monorail to catch a ride to the Polynesian. All things considered, we should have foregone this event - coming from the pleasant and mild weather conditions of the San Francisco Bay area, we needed some time to acclimate to the intense heat and humidity. None of us ate very well and mostly we just poured sweat the entire evening. I think we would have been better to select someplace that was indoors rather than the outdoor dining that the Luau provided. The show was great though, and the performers were astounding. We got back to our rooms about 10pm and tried to get some sleep - the next day was our "Ultimate Day of Magic" and it would start early; we were to meet our VIP Tour Guide in the lobby at 6:00am.
August 17 - Our "Ultimate Day of Magic." We met Anne, our tour guide, in the lobby of the Grand Floridian at 6:00am. Anne took us to the Magic Kingdom in a company Cadillac - it's a nice way to travel. We drove into the Cast entrance and parked behind Main Street. From there we went to the VIP lounge, which is in a back-room at City Hall. They use this room for VIPs and for upset guests. The first thing you notice about this room is that it is totally devoid of anything Disney. This is done so that the upset guest has a moment to regroup without seeing a bunch of Disney stuff to make them more upset. For us the room was filled with stuffed Disney characters, all of which Nastassia got to take with her. Here in the VIP lounge we had our Continental breakfast. I've had a few continental breakfasts in my time but this was fabulous, with all kinds of fruits, pastries, breads, juice, coffee, tea, yogurt - it was a really nice spread. Here we also met our backstage tour guide Nicole and Engineer Bob, our tour guide for the steam train roundhouse. Once we finished our breakfast, we took off with Nicole for our backstage tour of the Haunted Mansion.
The stroll down Main Street was simply magical! There was no one there! We have several photos of us standing on Main Street with absolutely no one around - the whole park looked so fresh and clean. We headed to the Haunted Mansion, where we met Laura who was the foreman of the ride and would take us with her while she did her "show" check. We started the tour standing near the exit while Nicole and Laura told us the story of Master Gracey of the Mansion. It was a really cool story, about how Master Gracey hung himself in the foyer (the hanging figure in the stretching room) after he was told his wife to be was missing. Of course, when the bride-to-be found out (she had been hiding in the attic for him), in her despair she threw her wedding ring out of the window, and we were shown where it landed - there is a small ring imbedded in the cement right where the exit gates are.
After the story, we entered the Mansion through a service corridor that empties into the exit area. This corridor was really cool - I was amazed at the detail that extended into the employee's area. This corridor took us to the waiting room and from there we went into the stretching room. Laura wanted us to start our tour from the front the way it was meant to be entered - so we went out the front door and was amazed to see the tombstone that is dedicated to Leota Toombs who was, of course, the face and voice for Madam Leota who passed away recently. This tombstone sits right out the front door. The tombstone has a woman's face on the tombstone, and every few minutes the eyes open and look around and then close again - very eerie!
We then re-entered the Mansion. We walked through the foyer and entered the stretching room. Laura ran the stretching room with the doors open and it was cool, although it was a major spoiler - something about watching the room stretch while the foyer was stationery really brought it home that this was just a ride. After the stretching room we continued on our journey into the Mansion. We walked past the Doom Buggies where we were shown the track layout on a panel that indicates intrusion alerts. There are sensors all through the Mansion that are positioned next to the track, so that if any guests try to get out of their Doom Buggies, the ride stops and the panel displays the point of intrusion.
At this point Laura gave us each a flashlight for the rest of the tour. Then we started to walk up the ramp that the Doom Buggies follow (it's made to look like you are ascending stairs). As we continued our journey into the Mansion, we saw the Hall of Portraits - we were told that recently a lot of the paintings were replaced with duplicates and the original paintings, which were Marc Davis originals, were taken out to be preserved. It's something to see all of this with the house lights on - the mansion is HUGE. The ceiling must be 40 or 50 feet high, and everything is painted black with fluorescent paint for accents.
Next we were in the library. The silhouette at the piano was invisible to us because of the house lights, but it was very cool to look into the piano and see the mechanism that moves the keys. We continued our tour going through the conservatory (where we petted the raven - this is something the ride operators do everyday for luck). After that we walked to the end of the endless hallway - it's actually pretty deep. The effect is done by having a mirror at the end and a scrim about 10 feet in front of the mirror. The candelabra hangs right behind the scrim. The scrim is very effective at hiding the secrets to this very cool effect. Our tour then took us down the Corridor of Doors. We were able to touch them - the ones that move are actually rubber. It was kind of weird watching the doors moving but no sound other than the air releasing from the pneumatic valves that operate all the action.
Next up on the tour is the Séance room with Madam Leota. We were shown how the projector actually projects the illusion into the crystal ball. It was interesting to see all the props suspended from the ceiling - there are actually big openings in the ceiling where each prop is hanging from. Up in the ceiling are the motors that make the objects look like they are floating in air. From the séance room, we walked past the Ballroom scene as seen by the Doom Buggies - with all the lights on the ghosts are gone and the ballroom is empty. We continued our tour through the attic, where we learned that it is actually filled with many antiques, and although nothing new has been added, they will move some of the stuff around so guests will see new stuff.
After the attic, we followed the Doom Buggies path out the attic window and started our descent into the graveyard scene. This was probably the coolest part of the tour. As we passed the groundskeeper and his dog, we gave the dog a pat on the head. From this point, we exited the show part of the Mansion and went down some stairs that took us under the Graveyard. From here, we went through a couple of maintenance rooms, the sound room and eventually ended up inside the Ballroom In order to get into the Ballroom we had to walk past all the ghosts, and in revolving door fashion we each had to take turns walking between the turntable that creates the effect of the ghosts coming into the ballroom from outside.
The Ballroom effect is what's called a Peppers ghost effect. It really is elegant in its simplicity. The guests are basically looking at a reflection of mannequins in a window. The room the Doom Buggies is traveling in is dark and the ballroom is low light, so when a bright light is shown on one of the figures that are actually directly underneath the Doom Buggies, a reflection is cast in the Plexiglas panels that separate the Doom Buggies from the Ballroom. So, of course, when you actually walk into the Ballroom it is a big room that has no figures whatsoever. The figures are carefully positioned to align with the furniture and props that are in the Ballroom so that the final effect is ghosts coming and going and interacting with the physical realm. Very cool.
From here we actually walked into the ballroom. First we were cautioned not to touch anything, as placement is critical to the effect and if anything is touched it could be put out of alignment with the ghosts. It was very thrilling for me to actually be standing on the other side of the glass. It was interesting to hear about the famous hidden Mickey place setting. There is one table setting that is arranged into a hidden Mickey. Laura told us that this is not something WDI did, but something that the ride operators do - in fact, every time WDI comes out they change it back, and then when they leave, the ride operators change it back to the Mickey setting. Apparently, this has been such an ongoing battle that the last time WDI came out they took a Polaroid of the "proper" setting and put the photo under the plate. It was still configured like a hidden Mickey for our tour. We walked over to the organ and I touched the keys, but they don't do anything. The organ at Disneyland was the one used in 20,000 Leagues under the Sea but this one was a reproduction. I would have loved to have had my picture sitting at the organ, but our guides were very diligent and strict on not letting us take any photos or video on any of the backstage tours.
Next we went back up to the graveyard and continued our tour. There wasn't a whole to touch in the graveyard since all of the figures are behind a scrim. We were shown the original hidden Mickey - it is a flowing phantasm that is inside a crypt,and if you look at the phantasm's hand you will see that he it looks like he is holding a Mickey head. We finished our tour through the graveyard and past the hitchhiking ghosts and then we were back outside. The tour lasted about 1 ½ hours.
Once outside we heard a couple more interesting stories - one story was about a little bench that sits out by the exit. This rather ornate bench is adorned with serpents, and these serpents make up the arms and legs of the bench and their heads are actually the feet and the ends of the arms. One day a guest decided to paint the eyes on the serpents with red fingernail polish, and apparently everyone liked it so the red eyes have stayed - see, anyone can be an Imagineer!
We also learned about the brass balls at the top of the posts that are used for crowd control. Over the years these brass balls have been stolen, so the studio began changing out all the brass balls to some really cheap looking plastic. Well the heat is so intense that these plastic balls tend to melt and sag over - so after much complaining from the CM's, the brass balls are making a comeback. We also heard some horror stories about what some guests do in the area, such as climbing up to the pet cemetery, climbing on the hearse, etc. We did get to get on the hearse and we had our picture taken on it. I really like how the Mansion CM's NEVER smile. We tried - Lucille Ball probably couldn't even get a smirk out of them - although it would be fun to see.
After the Mansion tour we made our way back up Main Street so that we could officially open the park for the day. My daughers met us at the VIP lounge (they had spent the time riding all the rides in Fantasyland,) then all of us headed to the entrance where we met Jeff from Synergy (Synergy is the group that set up the eBay auction and who we communicated with in setting up our trip) and Steven, one of the WDW Ambassadors - as well as Chris, also from the Magic Kingdom (Chris took all of our preferences for the trip and put together our literary.) We were given an "Honary Citizenship" for WDW, and we were given some pins - one was just a little lapel pin with Mickey that read "100 Years of Magic." The other pin was a really cool interactive pin - it also was for the 100 Year Celebration, but this pin lights up and when you go on some attractions, the pin starts "interacting." It was pretty cool when you'd be walking through the line in Tower of Terror and all of the sudden these 4 pins start blinking - it was definitely a conversation piece with your fellow line-standers.
Steven, our Ambassador made a little presentation, then my daughter said the magic word, waved her wand and the park officially opened. We then got on our VIP car (which was a fire chief car) and we rode up Main Street to the Castle. From here we headed to our first ride of the day and since we just got a backstage tour of the Haunted Mansion, we decided to make this our first attraction. My daughter loved it - I was worried that she wouldn't since she kind of freaked out a year earlier at Disneyland's Mansion - and when we finished the ride, it was time for us to continue our backstage tour.
So we left to head for the Utilidors (the tunnels.) We walked towards Main Street. On our way Nicole told us all kinds of interesting facts - like, did you know that Liberty Square has no restrooms? This is in keeping with the period, since during this time in American history there was no indoor plumbing - and if you've ever noticed a brown "walkway" that goes through Liberty Square, well, that is to signify the raw sewage that would have been present during that time. Every time we walked through there after that we made sure to stay out of the sewer.
We walked up Main Street and into the candy shop where we went through the back door and came out "backstage" - the first thing we saw was a big machine that makes dry ice for the outside vending carts - Our tour guide said that's where they store Walt. I thought that was really funny - of course she was kidding. Then we walked past one of the trash receptacle systems that take garbage and blast it through large tubes into a processing plant where the garbage is sifted and burned. We then walked into administrative offices. In these offices there was a large display case on the wall, and in the case was the mechanics of an Audio-Animatronic head, various types of hair, examples of "good show" vs. "bad show" in regards to CM's attire.
From here we headed downstairs into the Utilidors. The Utilidors are basically a giant locker room - there are various tunnels that go to different sections of the park but we didn't really go very far - we saw a couple of maintenance rooms, but most of the area we saw was lockers and administrative offices. After this, we headed back up to Main Street and went back to the VIP lounge where we met up with Engineer Bob. Bob was going to be our guide for the next part of our backstage tour - the Parade production facility and the Steam Train Roundhouse. The first stop would the Roundhouse. We got in a van and headed out. On our way we saw lots of maintenance buildings and warehouses. We saw the building that stores all the Christmas stuff, and we saw all the submarines sitting up on blocks (one of the saddest things I ever saw - most were in total shambles - they were missing portholes, and other molding which has been auctioned off on EBay.)
We finally made it to the steam train roundhouse - the Lily Belle was out waiting for us. We got to climb all over it - we had our picture taken I have a really cool one of me sitting in the driver seat. Those trains are absolutely BEAUTIFUL - I can see why Walt got hooked. The next stop was the parade production building. Here we got to see all the floats for the "Share a Dream" parade - this is the parade that honors 100 years of Walt, and we were shown all the hidden Walt's that the various parade floats have. For example, the first float with Mickey had a film projector on the top of the Glass globe (all the floats are done like snow globes,) and if you look at the film reels on the projector you will see the silhouette of Walt's face. Every float has some kind of hidden Walt. I though it was very cool. We also saw the floats for Spectromagic.
This pretty much concluded our backstage tour. We said good-bye to Bob and then Nicole took us to Cinderella's Castle for lunch at Cinderella's royal table. We had lunch with Nicole and Anne and it was great - I forget the name of the dish I had, but it was some kind of pasta with chicken and it was fantastic. After lunch we said good-bye to Nicole and we were all alone with Anne. Now comes what might arguably be the best part of this trip - as part of the Ultimate Day of Magic we had priority passes onto all the rides - which meant no lines; we didn't even have to get fast passes. Anne would flash her card and we went right to the front - many times we came in through the exit - it was really cool. I could see and hear people in line asking "Who are those people?" - I almost felt like a celebrity! So for the next 2 hours we rode rides - we went on Splash Mountain 3 times - they actually just let us stay on so we just rode it around and around. After these 2 hours we went to the train station on Main Street to watch the "Share a Dream Parade." We had seats behind a rope right in front and we were served sodas and popcorn while we watched. After the parade it was 5 more hours of riding rides. Because we didn't have to stand in line we pretty much went on everything and some things we rode several times like Buzz Lightyear's Spin.
At 7:30pm we went to the Rose Garden - this area is a small covered patio amidst the roses and sits right on the water that makes up the Castle moat. We met our Chef and our server Mike and John and we sat down to enjoy our dinner of filet mignon and lobster. The meal was fantastic - Mike would make us anything we wanted. We still have the roses that we got there.
After dinner, we made our way over to the VIP area for Spectromagic. We sat in the front row of some seats that was set up on the bridge that leads from Main Street to Frontierland. It was great seating - I saw Spectromagic in 1997, the last time we were there, but I don't know if it was the seating or just my great mood from being pampered all day - but I really loved this parade this time. Being so close all the characters really played to us - my daughters were spellbound!
After Spectromagic, we headed over to the River Belle - where dessert was waiting for us. We had a scrumptious dessert of chocolates, fruit dishes and chocolate dipped strawberries. We watched the fireworks from here. After the fireworks our day was pretty much over. We headed down Main Street where we stopped and bought a couple of souvenirs and then made our way backstage one last time to get in the car and go back to the hotel. Anne dropped us off about 11pm back at the Grand Floridian, and our Ultimate Day of Magic was over.
In thinking about that day since, I have to say that it was the best time I have ever had at a Disney theme park - and I have been a Disneyphille for a long time. I even worked for Disneyland for a few years in the late 70's in the Figure Maintenance dept. I spent many hours working on the Haunted Mansion, so the backstage tour of the WDW's HM was a big allure to me. But what struck me the most about our Ultimate Day was the service and the Cast Members - and in particular, our Tour Guide Anne Macklin - she was the greatest, and it was she that really made us feel like VIPs that day. Everyone we met that had anything to do with our day was just top notch - I can't express enough how impressed I was with everything they did. We were waited on by people that work with Presidents and celebrities, and they are absolutely the best at what they do. It was well worth the extra money that it cost to see a side of the Disney operation that only kings and dignitaries usually get. I'm hooked.
The rest of our trip was great. This trip was by far the trip of a lifetime. Even my family which has come to accept my obsession with all things Disney had the time of their lives. Although standing in lines - even fast pass lines - are a little harder to take now that we've lived the life of a VIP. I know I have the Disney section of EBay bookmarked now, and I will definitely try again should another package like this ever come up again.
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